Memorial Day has its roots in the American Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history with estimates of approximately 625,000 casualties, surpassing even that of World War II with over 405,000 American casualties. The origins of Memorial Day are unclear. Some trace Memorial Day back to the early days of the Civil War when the graves of the first fallen Confederate soldiers were decorated in 1861. Others trace Memorial Day to the end of the Civil War when in 1865 nearly 10,000 people, comprised primarily of newly freed slaves, honored Union prisoners who had died in Charleston, South Carolina. And still others trace Memorial Day to General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the veterans’ organization for Union Civil War veterans, who called for May 30th (a date, some say, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle) to be recognized nationwide as “Decoration Day” in 1868.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs maintains 131 national cemeteries of which the most famous is Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia built in 1864. Interestingly, Arlington National Cemetery passed through the hands of family members who found themselves on both sides of the Civil War. The land, originally acquired by George Washington Parke Custis, step-grandson and adopted son of George Washington (I’m still trying to figure that out), was later passed on to Custis’ daughter Mary Anna Randolph Custis who later married Robert E. Lee who was to became the leader of the armed forces of the Confederate States of America. Following the Civil War, the U.S. Government confiscated the property when Mary failed to appear “in person” to pay property taxes on the property. The confiscation was clearly intended as political retribution against Lee.
It was difficult for me to find a definitive resource for this, and I apologize if I missed any, but there are five federal veterans’ memorials in the U.S. The African American Civil War Memorial built in 1998, the Korean War Veterans’ Memorial built in 1995, the U.S. Marine Crops War Memorial built in 1954, the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial built in 1982, and the World War II Memorial built in 2004.
A heartfelt thank you to all those veterans who selflessly gave their lives for us and the principles upon which our country stands.